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In the Spotlight

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-An Ordinary Man With Extraordinary Dreams AND Abilities

by Patrick Shannon, New Orleans, Louisiana

"We could spend 200 million dollars a year on the N.O. police department and not solve the crime problem. . . Unless we get to today's children, our future's going to be twice as bad as what it is today. These kids in public schools need help! They need people to come over and spend two hours every other week, once a week, or once a month and SPEND TIME WITH THEM. You don't have to be the most educated person in the world. If you can bounce a ball. If you can turn a jump rope, you can help. . . " (Steven Willey, NOLA 12/96)

In all the years I've known him, I've always had a warm feeling for Steven Willey. On those occasions when I'd meet him at some party or fundraiser, I would always make a point of having a chat with him. Just being near him made me feel good. Why is that I wondered? We were not very close friends, but whenever we met I would feel as if I have known him for a long time. Some people do that, don't they. And some people don't. There seems to be something special about this man.

Steve Willey is a single man in his mid forties. He's the kind of guy who might describe himself as having "average good looks." His hair is thinning and his pate is surrounded by a fringe of graying hair. He has a certain smile in his eyes and his manner puts one at ease immediately. He can blend into any crowd and doesn't hog the spotlight. He just seems sure of who and what he is and needs none of the self aggrandizement that most people thrive on. He seems to be just a quiet, ordinary man with one exception. He seems to be so unselfish, so full of love for everyone, that he could easily be mistaken for a professional caregiver, a pediatrician, a social worker, a cleric. But he's more than that.

"I've worked at Around the Corner in the French Quarter for the last 25 years," he begins when I ask him to give us a brief synopsis of who he is.

"I've been in the hotel, bar and transportation business. I'm originally from Middletown, Delaware," he tells me quietly in his deep resonant voice. "I presently own a Liberty Bell taxicab, he continues. "That's my main income at this point."

And that's one of two dreams he has realized recently. He's his own boss with his own cab business. But ever so much more remarkable is his second dream, which he has also realized. And this one, if you think about it, is something which unremittingly requires great dedication, patience, wisdom, courage, deep commitment and true unconditional love, the love that only a father can have for a son.

What a mystery is must be to embark upon the journey of rearing a child; to mold and influence another life, another soul. To see a child grow and to know, on a personal level, the devotion of a parent, the joys and the pains of doing the best you can with the most wonderful thing in the universe; to literally hold in one's arms the fate and future of another life.

Stephen wanted to adopt a child, especially a child who really needed a father. He looked into it. He was qualified and certified and did it. For the last two years, Steven has helped a troubled child develop far beyond the greatest expectations of his mentors and teachers and counselors.

"Yes, two years ago this Christmas I got involved with a Foster Care Program. He's permanently my son and it would take a court order to take him away from me. I've been certified by the state and all legal authorities as his foster parent. He goes to the Little Red Schoolhouse in the Quarter. And that's what brings me to this interview. You know, we can give 200 million dollars to the police department but we can't give anything near that to our public school children. Unless we get to today's children, our future's going to be twice as bad as what it is today.

These kids in public schools need help! They need people to come over and spend two hours every other week, once a week, or once a month and SPEND TIME WITH THEM. You don't have to be the most educated person in the world. If you can bounce a ball. If you can turn a jump rope, you can help. And those people who have special talents can come in and do things like art class, or whatever. You all know what you do best.

One of the problems in our schools is that we are trying to educate all of our children like they are going to college. Not all of these children are ever going to see anywhere even close to college. But they need somebody in there to help them. Help the teachers teach them to read.

If you can sew, you can teach those interested in how to do that. Or we could set up a Saturday afternoon to teach auto mechanics. Anything that you can do that you're a specialist in; anything that can make these kids more valuable, more employable, you could teach them. They need to know that there's somebody out there that loves them other than their mama, and some of them don't even have a mama out there.

In just two years my boy has developed a high school level of understanding in math. He's interested and has a talent for art. He knows now that there's somebody home for him; that there's somebody who will stand up for him, he knows that if he gets home before I do there's food in the refrigerator or on the shelf for him to eat.

It's the first time in his life I think that he's ever had a full stomach every night before he goes to bed. But there are so many kids who don't have. . . I mean there's 35 kids in his class at his school. And I am the only parent who comes in on a regular basis. I spend only two hours a week there.

You know, my mother was a working mother but she was always there. Somehow she got the time off. But I'm only asking that people spend two hours a week helping kids instead of sitting around a coffee shop or a bar twiddling your tongue. Especially the single people who read this publication. They all have a lot of time and talent they could share. And I don't mean just at the Little Red Schoolhouse. There are public schools throughout the city. All these people have to do is pick a school, go there, check in with the principal and let them know you want to spend two hours helping out or sharing your special talents with the kids. They can even monitor cafeterias. The kids all get to know you. They expect you. I've done phys ed, helped them with the gardens. Whatever your talent is you can use it. Penmanship, reading. The schools are in dire need of help.

Where are we, those single people with time to spare and so many great talents. I'm working with people in City Hall about city employees getting extra time for lunch in order to share a couple of hours with some kids somewhere in a public school. You're never left alone with the children. If you are, you will be with 35 of them, so there should be no problem.

I'm waiting to hear from Andre Trevigne to talk about this on her show. Some of the Council persons are interested. I will be glad to share my ideas with anyone who calls me at 945-8427."

Steven Willey is a remarkable man. He has proven that he has the altruism and the love to give of himself where an adult role model is most needed, in our public schools. Can you do the same? Do you have the courage and compassion and the love to help a student learn to read, or write, or maybe inspired him or her to become the next great architect, theoretical mathematician, philosopher, or artist. You will never know until you try. Now I know why being around Steven Willey makes me feel so good. Because then I'm in the presence of a man who quietly does what needs to be done. Unassuming, without tooting his own horn. He's just an ordinary man with extraordinary abilities. I'm proud to know him. And I know his son is and I also know that a lot of children at The Little Red Schoolhouse are proud to know him. And they also love him too.

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